The United Kingdom government has expressed “outrage” over allegations that a former staffer at its consulate in Hong Kong was tortured while detained in mainland China in August.
Simon Cheng – a trade and investment officer at the Scottish Development International section of the consulate – attended a business event in Shenzhen on August 8, but went missing after boarding a high-speed train back to Hong Kong’s West Kowloon terminal. Beijing later confirmed he had been placed under administrative detention.
Cheng, 29, said that during his two-week detention he was “hung, handcuffed and shackled” and beaten when he failed to comply. He added that Chinese authorities had accused him of spying for the UK and inciting political unrest in Hong Kong – allegations which he denied.
“During the interrogation, I was in a cell sitting on a steel ‘tiger chair.’ I had been buckled up on the chair and [could not] move,” Cheng wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “I was asked three types of question: 1) The UK’s role in the Hong Kong ‘riots’; 2) my role in the ‘riots’; and 3) my relations with mainlanders who joined the ‘riots.'”
Cheng said he was hung on an X-shaped frame and forced to do a spreadeagle pose for hours.
“Sometimes, they ordered me to do the ‘stress tests,’ which includes extreme strength exercises such as ‘squat’ and ‘chair pose’ for countless hours. They beat me every time I failed to do so using something like sharpened batons,” he added. “They also poked my vulnerable and shivering body parts, such as knee joints.”
Cheng said he was “seriously bruised on ankles, thighs, wrists, and knees” as a result of the torture and could not walk for several days.
‘Shocked and appalled’
The UK government has summoned Chinese Ambassador Liu Xiaoming and called for an investigation into Cheng’s alleged abuse. British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also said he was “shocked and appalled” by the revelations.
“I summoned the Chinese Ambassador to express our outrage at the brutal and disgraceful treatment of Simon in violation of China’s international obligations. I have made clear we expect the Chinese authorities to investigate and hold those responsible to account,” Raab said, adding that Cheng’s mistreatment amounted to torture.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang responded on Wednesday warning London to remain “prudent and stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs and China’s domestic affairs, because that will only harm the UK’s interests.”
Asked about Cheng’s case, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng said the consulate staffer should lodge a complaint with mainland authorities. She declined to comment on the details of his claims.
In his detailed statement and several media interviews, Cheng said that he had been detained along with other people from Hong Kong, though he could not verify their identities.
“When I walked through the corridor, I heard one voice shout out from one of the questioning rooms ‘Raise your hands higher! Didn’t you raise your hands and wave the flags in the protest?’ I guessed they were torturing Hong Kong protesters,” he said.
Cheng also witnessed Chinese officials calling another female detainee “scum,” accusing her of being involved in Hong Kong’s protests.
While Cheng was detained, Chinese state media claimed that he had been arrested for soliciting a prostitute. Cheng refuted those claims on Wednesday, saying that he had done “nothing” regretful to anyone he loved and cherished.
He added that he never instigated any protests and only gathered information on them for the consulate. During his business trip, he also collected money from the parents of a mainlander, which was intended to be used to pay for their son’s judicial proceedings in Hong Kong.
After being asked to resign from his job in November, Cheng said he was seeking asylum in an undisclosed location and that he felt “vulnerable” as he had “no concrete support and protection.”
Raab said that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been working to support Cheng and his fiancee in travelling to the UK.
Amnesty International’s China Researcher Patrick Poon said that Cheng’s case was a “callous attempt” by Chinese state officials to intimidate anyone perceived to be linked to protests in Hong Kong.
“The horrific abuse Simon Cheng described in his testimony, such as being shackled and placed in stress positions, is in line with the endemic torture and other ill-treatment in detention we have repeatedly documented in mainland China,” Poon said.
“He is yet another victim of arbitrary detention in China, where activists can be held incommunicado for long periods of time. China must investigate Cheng’s claims and ensure any police found responsible for torture or other ill-treatment are held to account.”
Lord Alton, Vice-Chair of the Westminster Friends of Hong Kong, said that Cheng’s case was “heartbreaking and extraordinary.”
“This demands a far stronger response from the British Government than a quiet word with the Chinese Ambassador. Surely it is now time for the Foreign Secretary to declare that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is being violated by Beijing, and that China is in breach of international law,” he said.
Alton also called on the UK government to follow the lead of the US – which passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the Senate on Tuesday – and begin to prepare targeted sanctions, as well as offering asylum to people like Cheng.
Stand with Hong Kong, a pro-democracy group in the UK, also questioned whether the British government had a “red line” regarding Hong Kong, and criticised it for being unable to adequately respond to breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
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